I find myself frequently talking with my students about practice. It is so important, and the students who do practice improve so much more quickly than those who do not. Yet, we all know that feeling when life gets in the way. We have the best intentions and even set aside time to practice, but then pow! Something comes up and derails all your plans. Sometimes, finding an hour of time to get in front of the mirror and throw on a hip scarf just doesn’t happen.
Often, what we choose to do in those little moments that are available to us make the biggest impact. Here are some of the practice techniques I use when I can’t get into the studio but I’m just itching for a little dance break!
I have been adding conditioning exercises to the end of the day, usually when I get home from teaching and I am digesting my dinner and watching a good movie. Now, after dancing for 6 hours I make rest a priority, but if I had a light day I will do short and simple conditioning exercises for various goals. Right now I am working on stabilizing my problem knee, and working on my external hip rotation. You can identify your problem areas and conditioning exercises to help those areas. Try back raises, or balance exercises, or roll out your hips and IT band on a foam roller or tennis ball.
Listen to music
I listen to new music at the beginning of the week, and toward the end of the week I make my performance selections and I listen to them over and over.
Once you have found music you’d like to choreograph, listening to it passively can greatly increase your ability to recall it, and can give you excellent ideas. To dance well, you must know your music like the back of your hand. Listening to music may not feel like “practicing” but it is key to creating good performances! You can also actively listen to your music, visualizing your performance. The same parts of your brain will activate, as if you were actually practicing. This is great for when you are injured or sick!
Focus on one move
When you only have 5 or 10 minutes it’s easy to just decide to do something else. Ask yourself what you struggle with the most and focus on that for just a few minutes. Is your balance off? Stand on one leg and close your eyes. Are your shoulders up in your ears? Find a mirror and practice your arm movements (this is great to practice when you don’t have time to warm up). Did you learn a new move in class? Practice it!
Read or watch videos
Since I have been dancing my whole life, I know how easy it is to fall into a rut or feel uninspired. You can’t create unless you are inspired. Try watching videos of other dancers – and other performance artists. Save videos that you find the most inspiring, and try making notes about what made it so exceptional to you. How can you achieve those things? Read those notes next time you practice.
Reading about dance, music, anatomy, or any creative subject will get the gears turning as well. I like magazines because they can give you short doses of information, but you can read a chapter or a page in a book in about five minutes. Keep reading material close at hand. I keep books by my nightstand, and in my dance bag to read between classes.
Mark out one song
Remember not to dance full out if you aren’t warm, but if you only have a few minutes, pop your headphones on and scoot the coffee table back. Mark your choreography as best as you can, and visualize performing it. See the stage, the audience, the lights. Marking choreography has been shown to actually improve recall, when practiced together with dancing full-out. I feel like this is so inspiring because when just “playing around” or “half-assing” you can actually make progress!
Watch videos of yourself
Video is one of the best ways to improve. Record yourself practicing, and whenever possible try to get footage of your performances, even if you don’t share it. Watch a video or two and make notes about what could have been better. If you have a few more minutes, try doing the piece again and fix what you didn’t like! Sometimes I do this over and over in my studio. Film-watch-delete-repeat. Just be kind to yourself and give corrections as if you were giving them to someone else. We are our own worst critics!
Allow yourself to be bored
This tip is more for someone who is feeling uninspired than someone who doesn’t have time to practice. Good ideas come in quiet moments. Lay down and just do nothing. Sit on the porch and listen to the birds singing. Pour a hot bath and light a candle. Put your phone down and just be. I know I get so busy I have to remind myself that quiet time is actually important – and that it’s not “lazy”. Relax and recharge and ideas and inspiration will come faster thank you think!